May 30, 2023  
Rensselaer Catalog 2009-2010 
Rensselaer Catalog 2009-2010 [Archived Catalog]

Cognitive Science

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Head: Selmer Bringsjord

Director, Graduate Program in Cognitive Science: Brett R. Fajen

Director, Undergraduate Advising, Philosophy:
Michael J. Zenzen

Director, Undergraduate Advising, Psychology: Nicholas L. Cassimatis

Department Home Page:

Cognitive Science is broadly defined as the study of the mind/brain, how it is structured, how it functions, and how it can be represented and simulated. It is theoretically grounded in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, logic, and philosophy of knowledge and mind. Its practical applications include artificial intelligence, cognitive engineering and human factors, cognitive modeling, perception and action, and psychopharmacology.

At the graduate level, the department is committed to the concept of integrated cognitive systems. Specifically, research and teaching falls into areas that together cover low-to high-level cognition, whether in minds or machines:

  • Reasoning (Human and Machine)
  • Computational Cognitive Modeling
  • Cognitive Engineering
  • Perception and Action

Modern research facilities, including the CogWorks Laboratory, Interactive and Distance Education Assessment (IDEA) Laboratory, Rensselaer Artificial Intelligence and Reasoning Laboratory (RAIR Lab), Perception and Action Lab (PandA Lab), the Human-Level Intelligence Laboratory, the Cognitive Architecture Laboratory (Cog Arch Lab), and dedicated space in the Institute’s new Social and Behavioral Research Laboratory, provide a new expression of the Department’s interests in cognitive science that integrates the diverse research activities of the faculty in the Department. At the graduate level, our goal is to prepare our doctoral graduates for careers as researchers in four related areas within cognitive science: computational cognitive modeling, reasoning and decision-making, perception and action, and cognitive engineering.

Our Ph.D. in Cognitive Science was approved by the State of New York in 2003. For information and guidance about applying to this new Ph.D. program, please contact Betty Osganian, Student Services Administrator at the undergraduate and graduate levels at

At the undergraduate level, the Department has maintained separate programs in philosophy and psychology leading to the Bachelor of Science degree in each discipline, respectively. An important goal of the undergraduate program, particularly for those enrolled in the Minds and Machines Program, the department’s undergraduate program in cognitive science, is to prepare students for careers in the rapidly growing “Information Economy.”

Research Innovations and Initiatives

Graduate training in Cognitive Science emphasizes research, modeling, and building of integrated cognitive systems. Within this broad scope the department has special strength in the following areas.

Human and Machine Reasoning

Foci include logic-based and knowledge-based AI, theorem-proving, and psychology of reasoning. The multi-disciplinary group of researchers involved is known as the Rensselaer Reasoning Group, which works out of the Rensselaer AI & Reasoning (RAIR) Lab. For information, contact Selmer Bringsjord via

Computational Cognitive Modeling

Understanding an integrated cognitive system can be very complex. The possibilities for interaction among cognitive, perceptual, and action operations is astounding. The interplay of each of these with the other and with the external world cannot be simply predicted. Computational cognitive models provide a vehicle to manage this complexity with the goal of making progress towards understanding how integrated cognitive systems effect and are affected by their environment.

Cognitive Engineering

Cognitive Engineering is the application of cognitive science theories to human factors problems. Putting cognitive theories to the test of real-world applications is a means of maintaining a focus on the truly important cognitive issues. At Rensselaer, cognitive engineering has two components; (1) research directed at solving applied problems, and (2) research directed at developing engineering tools that others with less cognitive training can use to solve applied problems.

Perception and Action

This area of research focuses on perception with an emphasis on its role in the performance of both routine and skilled goal-directed action. Current research topics include visually guided locomotion in real and virtual environments, the coordination of eye and hand movements, and the integration of perception and action with higher-level cognition (e.g., learning and attention). At Rensselaer, these topics are investigated from various theoretical perspectives, including ecological psychology, dynamical systems theory, and computational cognitive modeling.

Undergraduate Programs

Baccalaureate Programs

Dual Majors

Dual majors are available in all (philosophy and psychology) department curriculum areas.

Majors that may be combined with philosophy to form a dual major include computer science, physics, mathematics, biology, architecture, and various engineering majors (e.g., computer systems engineer). These dual programs serve the needs of those students desiring to combine the virtues of a liberal arts education with those of science, architecture, or engineering to achieve an education that is practical, stimulating, and diverse.

As an example of how such dual majors are structured, a student majoring in physics and philosophy would meet the requirements of the physics curriculum and take eight courses in philosophy. These might include PHIL 2130 Introduction to Philosophy of Science, PHIL 4360 Philosophical Problems of Space and Time, and PHIL 4310 Scientific Revolutions. A student majoring in computer science and philosophy would meet the requirements of the computer science curriculum and take eight philosophy courses that might include PHIL 2140 Introduction to Logic, PHIL 4260 Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence, and PHIL 4420 Computability and Logic. For a mathematics-philosophy dual major, key courses might include PHIL 4380 Philosophy of Mathematics, PHIL 4140 Intermediate Logic, and PHIL 4440 Knowledge, and Rationality.

Dual majors with psychology may include computer science; electrical, computer, and systems engineering; and decision science and engineering systems. A dual major in management and psychology is also available. The Lally School of Management has established certain requirements that must be completed for this major in addition to those described above. For further information and a list of requirements for this dual major, see the Lally School of Management section of this catalog.

Minor Programs

The Department of Cognitive Science provides a variety of minor programs within its curricula.

Graduate Programs

Master’s Programs

The Cognitive Science Department offers a Master of Science degree in Cognitive Science. The degree is open only to two groups of students. The first group is those who are already admitted to Rensselaer in a doctoral program. This includes students in the Cognitive Science doctoral program as well as students in other doctoral programs (e.g., Decision Sciences and Engineering Systems, Computer Science, and so on). Rensselaer doctoral students who desire a Master’s in Cognitive Science should contact the department directly. Other students able to obtain a Master of Science degree in Cognitive Science are those in our five-year program that combines the Bachelor of Science in Psychology or Philosophy with the Cognitive Science masters. See “Accelerated Programs” for more information.

Accelerated Programs

Qualified students, in consultation with an academic adviser, may design a five-year program to complete requirements for the Bachelor of Science in Psychology or Philosophy and the Master of Science in Cognitive Science. An additional 30 credit hours are required beyond the B.S. degree. Students must apply to the program prior to or early in the first semester of their junior year. This is a research-oriented Cognitive Science program that will emphasize one of the four areas (Human and Machine Reasoning, Computational Cognitive Modeling, Cognitive Engineering, or Perception and Action) that constitutes our approach to integrated cognitive systems. Prior to applying, we expect that students will have taken introductory courses in cognitive psychology, philosophy of mind, and cognitive science, as well as being involved in one of the several research laboratories sponsored by department faculty.

Doctoral Program

The new Ph.D. in Cognitive Science was approved by the State of New York in 2003. For information and guidance about applying to this new Ph.D. program, please contact Betty Osganian, Student Services Administrator at the undergraduate and graduate levels at

Course Descriptions

Undergraduate courses in Philosophy or Psychology are described under the department codes PHIL and PSYC. Graduate courses in Cognitive Science are described in the Course Descriptions section under COGS.



Baron, R.A.—Ph.D. (University of Iowa); industrial/organizational psychology, social psychology.

Bringsjord, S.—Ph.D. (Brown University); logic and artificial intelligence, foundations of artificial intelligence and cognitive science, computational creativity.

Gray, Wayne D.—Ph.D. (University of California at Berkeley); interactive behavior, computational cognitive modeling, cognitive science.

Hendler, J. Ph.D. (Brown University); artificial intelligence, semantic web, agent-based computing and high performance processing.

Koller, J.M.Ph.D. (University of Hawaii); Asian and comparative thought, social philosophy, philosophy of religion (emeritus).

McGuinness, D.L.—Ph.D. (Rutgers University); knowledge representation and reasoning, explanation, proof, trust, ontologies, semantic web.

Puka, W.J.
—Ph.D. (Harvard University); ethics, cognitive-moral psychology, and applied cognitive science.

Rea, M.S.—Ph.D. (Ohio State University); visual psychophysics, lighting.

Reid, L.D.
—Ph.D. (University of Utah); physiological psychology of reinforcement, drug and alcohol addiction.

Sun, R.—Ph.D. (Brandeis University); computational cognitive modeling, cognitive architectures, skill learning, computational studies of consciousness, multi-agent interaction, connectionist and hybrid models.

Wallace, W.A.
—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); decision processes and cognition, decision support systems, improvisation, visualization and modeling.

Watt, J.—Ph.D. (University of Wisconsin-Madison); survey research via the Internet; marketing communication; media and web cognitive processes; mathematical models of communication processes.

Zenzen, M.J., Jr.
—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, aesthetics.

Associate Professors 

Fajen, B. R.—Ph.D. (University of Connecticut); visual perception, perception and action, ecological psychology, dynamical systems modeling; virtual reality.

Kalsher, M.J.—Ph.D. (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University); human factors, industrial/organizational psychology, applied experimental psychology.

Noble, R.G.
—Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley); psychobiology of choice and decision making.

Yang, Y.Ph.D. (New York University); cognitive psychology, thinking, reasoning and decision-making, and cognitive science.

Assistant Professors

Cassimatis, N. L. —Ph.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology); integrated cognitive models, human-level artificial intelligence, physical reasoning, natural language understanding.

Changizi, M. A.Ph.D. (University of Maryland); evolution, complexity and design principles in cognitive science and neurobiology.

Research Associate Professor

Schoelles, M.Ph.D. (George Mason University); computational cognitive modeling, interactive behavior, natural language processing.

Research Assistant Professor

Arkoudas, K.—Ph.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology); logic, artificial intelligence, theorem proving and verification, cognitive theories of reasoning, philosophy.

Clinical Associate Professor

Hubbell, C.L.—Ph.D. (University at Albany); behavioral neuroscience; psycho-pharmacology, learning.

Clinical Assistant Professors

Destefano, M.—M.S. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); games design, psychology of play, system dynamics.

Fahey, J.T.
—Ph.D. (University at Albany); metaphysics, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, epistemology, early modern philosophy.

Traver, H.
—Ph.D. (University at Albany); affirmative action, interactive learning, sexual harassment, industrial/organizational psychology.

van Heuveln, B.—Ph.D. (State University of New York at Binghamton); reasoning and logic, philosophy of computation, philosophy of mind, artificial intelligence, cognitive science.

Adjunct Faculty

Anderson, K.—Ph.D. (University of Georgia); counseling/clinical psychology.

Carcasole, J.
—M.A. (University at Albany); moral and political philosophy, justice and punishment, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, epistemology.

VerWys, C.—B.S. (University at Albany); social psychology, forensic psychology.

* Departmental faculty listings are accurate as of the date generated for inclusion in this catalog. For the most up-to-date listing of faculty positions, including end-of-year promotions, please refer to the Faculty Roster section of this catalog, which is current as of the May 2009 Board of Trustees meeting.

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